Search for Calexico teen continues
Imperial Irrigation District employees scour the waters of the All-American Canal on Friday as the search for Damian Placencia's body continues following his drowning June 10. (CHELCEY ADAMI PHOTO / June 22, 2013)
The young man was swimming with friends when he began screaming due to the current being too strong, according to police call logs, and his family publicly criticized the recovery effort during a protest last weekend.
While Calexico police are in charge of the investigation since it is in city limits, the recovery effort is being handled by the Imperial Irrigation District as the canals are its property.
Both entities are working together with assistance from others such as U.S. Border Patrol.
“The jurisdiction is not ours, and I believe that’s where we had some issues at the beginning because we did not have that jurisdiction and that authority,” Mayor Maritza Hurtado said in Tuesday’s council meeting. “It is very important to collaborate with the other agencies … We hope that one day we can give that family closure.”
IID Office of Emergency Management Supervisor Gary Hatfield said he was put in charge of the recovery effort Monday, and on Friday, the recovery team was using video cameras with sonar capabilities attached to a crane to review the canal area where Placencia was last seen.
The canals all the way from Calexico up to the Salton Sea are being searched, Hatfield explained, and canals are between eight and 10 feet deep on average.
IID employees were also seen in boats coasting the canals Friday, and culverts were being dredged from top to bottom.
IID employees dedicated solely to the recovery effort also are driving along the canal banks sunup to sundown, Hatfield said, while others are mowing the canal bank brush to get a better visual.
“I feel their pain. I really do,” Hatfield said. “My heart goes out to them. We’re honestly trying everything we can think of that can be done.”
Hatfield added that Calexico police and IID have been meeting with the mourning family daily since he’s been in charge to update them on what’s been done and what will be done next.
Both U.S. Border Patrol and Imperial County Narcotic Task Force have also conducted aerial scans in hopes of helping locate the body.
IID spokeperson Marion Champion said a dive team has not been used since it’s too dangerous due to the current strength and canal debris, but Border Patrol’s dive team has helped push back brush as much as possible.
Councilmen Joong Kim and Luis Castro said at Tuesday’s meeting that they believe more signage expressing the canals’ danger need to be placed around the canals while Councilman John Moreno said he believes preventative education geared toward older students is needed.
“I know the waters down there are treacherous, and I know we have an outreach program for the elementary kids. I think it’s high time to gear a program for our teenagers,” Moreno said. “They think they can swim out there, and from what I understood and some of the information I’m getting, some of those currents down below are 30 miles an hour, which is in my book extremely dangerous.”
Placencia was a senior at Aurora High School where Moreno is principal and was just recently honored as a student of the month at a Calexico Unified School District meeting.
Some interest has been shown in possibly setting up a scholarship in his honor, and details of that are being discussed.
Moreno also advised that grief counseling has been made available to students.
Authorities said that it has been a while since a teenager has drowned in a canal but immigrants illegally entering the country drowning in canals are fairly common. Eight people have drowned in local canals between January and May this year, Champion said.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or email@example.com